News Skills news BMC club member walks 2,500km from Bath to Bosnia By Jane Blackbourn

BMC club member walks 2,500km from Bath to Bosnia By Jane Blackbourn

Skills news

Following his final exam in June 2023, Bath University Mountaineering Club (a BMC-affiliated club) member and Natural Sciences student JJ Weeks embarked upon a two and a half thousand-kilometre walk from his university city, Bath, to Bosnia and Herzegovnia, passing through ten different countries over 100 days. Jane Blackbourn caught up with JJ to hear how it went.

Who’s writing?

I’m Jane and when I’m not at work scanning hearts, you’ll find me scanning the pages of guidebooks in search of new routes to climb. I love all things outdoors and adventure as well as the challenge of conveying those experiences through words.

Visit Jane’s blog here.

How did you discover walking?

When I joined university, I never gave much thought to hiking, the outdoors, or what hobbies I might pick up along the way. It was only during lockdown when everything changed for me. The isolation made us all question how we wanted to live our lives going forward, and for me that meant with freedom. Those initial freedom-finding hikes exploring the rolling Cotswold countryside surrounding Bath soon evolved from an escape into a hobby. Before I knew it, I found myself setting out on the 102-mile Cotswold way, one of England’s most charming National Trails: my first taste of a multi-day trek. Despite holding it in fond memory, I still remember being stood at its endpoint in Chipping Campden and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’d do something like that again!’ A matter of weeks later, and I couldn’t resist but set out on a new adventure along the South West Coast Path. I think the greatest thing I learnt that summer was that there’s no challenge too big.

Why did you embark on this journey?

University can be a confusing time. Figuring out what you want to do with your life isn’t something that necessarily happens while completing assignments. With exams looming during my final year, I decided I’d take a year after graduating to enjoy some different experiences, to do some soul searching, and to understand what direction I really wanted for myself. After the passing of three members of my family to heart disease, I was also keen to fundraise for Heart Research UK so set myself a huge goal with this walk.

How did you go about planning the walk?

Drawing a line across Europe turns out to be easier said than done. Unlike many of my previous long-distance hikes, where I just followed waymarkers, you won’t be surprised to hear that there’s no single route from Bath to Bosnia. One thing is common to many European cultures though: hiking! With tens of thousands of kilometres of hiking paths on the continent, you never have to stray too far to find a path. And yet, the route persisted as one of the greatest challenges I faced during my hike. I patchworked together a few sections of long-distance trails like the South Downs Way and the Via Alpina, but for the most part the route was made up as I went along!

What other challenges did you encounter?

My hiking boots deteriorated quickly, destroying my feet, so I had to walk in my aqua shoes until I reached a town where I could pick up a new pair of boots. Also, finding places to camp! In Luxembourg the law states that you can spend a week in prison for the crime of wild-camping whilst in Croatia I was told that if the police don't get me, then a bear will.

Food and shelter, the basics of human survival. How did you cope with the uncertainty of not knowing where or when you would find these?

It takes a lot of strength to hit 30-35km in a day without knowing where you're next going to stay, or when you're next going to eat, only to then get up the following day and do it all over again. The truth is that you don't really need much. But what you do need is to be with the right people, and in the right environment. Even when there's a bad day, or there's no place to stay, at least there's always the stars to look up and stare at.

What was your favourite moment of the trip?

Hiking in the Dolomites was undoubtedly a highlight; cloud inversions, 10am pints, gorgeous views, blue skies, a night in a Bivacco [a small, emergency, high mountain shelter], and dream-like sunsets. But whilst the landscapes were special, the real beauty was in the unexpected kindness of strangers who shared their homes, meals and conversation with me.

What is the greatest thing you have learnt along the way?

One thing I've learnt is that the only thing holding you back in life is a bad attitude; whatever limits you thought you had, whatever holds you back, there's nothing that positivity can’t do. To set aside the fears and learn not to worry has taken me to places and situations I never thought possible. Along the way, I've also come to realise that true meaning comes from the experiences, both good and bad, and from connecting with the land and its people.

Find out more about JJ’s epic hike on his trip blog here.